3 Wrong-Headed Ideas You Have About Your Brand Voice

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 9.19.28 AMYour real-life voice is distinctly you: I know it’s you because of how you sound when you walk into a room, answer the phone, laugh. I know your sense of humor, tone, volume. Your voice is who you are with my eyes closed. You have a way of speaking and interacting in the world that no one else does. That’s why we love comedic impressionists—because of how absolutely uncanny it is for someone to nail someone else’s cadence, tone, and sound. Your voice is that unique.

Your brand voice is the same thing—it mirrors you, and should extend the “you” of your brand out beyond you the person or you the individual members of your team. It’s a tricky thing—hit the wrong note, and you can miss your mark completely, turn people off, or just confuse them. When we talk about voice, we’re not just talking about topic or tone—it’s both. It’s what you say, and how you say it. Just ask my mother, who on more than one occasion during my adolescence reminded me that it wasn’t what I said, but my tone that was the problem.

Because it’s a complex and essentially living thing (and you know this because the lousy ones sound canned)—in order for it to land with a client or customer, it has to “sound” like you, but also be a voice they want to listen to. In short, there must be a connection, and the companies who nail it do it in a way that sounds simple, natural, like regular conversation.

That said, here are three of the most wrong-headed notions about brand voice that are, quite frankly, keeping you from communicating with your customers, clients, prospects, and readers in a real way—which can be costing you fans, followers, and business.

Wrong idea #1: They know what I’m talking about.

Oh boy. Now, I know where this comes from—and it’s from a good place. You know your customers, who they are, and what they need…but assumptions you make about what they know about you or what you offer in particular are a problem.

Put it this way: When have assumptions ever not been a problem? They always are! Ask anyone who’s been married for more than eight days. Usually when you hear “assume” it’s part of a rationale for why there was a screw up (“Oh, honey…I just assumed you knew”).

Rather, I want you to presume. To presume means your thought or idea is based on what you already KNOW to be true, and assume is what you’re guessing based on no information whatsoever.

Look at your website, your communications, newsletter, tweets—whatever it is you’re using to touch your customers and audience. Where are you making assumptions, and thus making them jump to a conclusion or worse, guess, about what you can do or can’t do? It’s your job to fill in the blanks and close the gap between you and the reader so that it’s very clear what you want them to do.

Wrong idea #2: My copywriter handles that.

Writers are wonderful people to have around and on your team, especially the ones who bear some institutional knowledge and know what you’re trying to do. Look, as a seasoned writer myself, I know how valuable this skill is, and I wield it deftly and differently, depending on who I’m speaking to and writing for. But if you think you can hire a copywriter to just “write up” what’s most important to you, you’re gravely mistaken.

Copywriters aren’t wizards; they’re only as good and helpful to you as the direction you give. So that means you have to have a direction and an idea of how you want to come across to the reader. WHO are you in the conversation with your client/audience? Are you the older sister who knows just a touch more than they do? Perhaps you want to strike a more formal note, one that inspires respect and a little bit more distance. Until you know the relationship, you can’t nail the voice.

There’s nothing wrong with outsourcing to a copywriter, by the way—but you don’t leave the voice to them; co-create it with them. Yes, they are the masters of the written realm, but there needs to be plenty of discussion and trial and error and exploring of language and tone before you can just throw something out there into the world.

Wrong-headed idea #3: My brand voice is determined by SEO

(Pardon me while I reach for the Advil.)

I know that you’re obsessed with SEO and being at the top of the Google search and all of that. Really, I do. But if you write to SEO? Look, no one’s doing that anymore. There are subtler, better ways to do it, and if I were an SEO expert, I would tell you and this would be a different article altogether. But there are ways to incorporate best SEO practice without having your brand voice shackled by lousy syntax and its resulting awkwardness.

So while I don’t claim to be an SEO expert, God help you if you’re just using words you think the customer is searching for. That’s only part of it. Brand voice isn’t a collection of words that someone might type into Google, any more than a personal and intimate conversation you might have with your significant other is plucked out of a screenplay.

Think of SEO as the address on the envelope, the details that get your message to the people who need it—they enable them to find you, yes. But. Once they’re there, you have to have more to say. Once the digital envelope connects you via the magic of the interwebs, they click on: Your website, email, profile, whatever—and out comes the letter. You’ve got to have something to say. What is it? Because that’s the most important thing of all.

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